Background Slow-transit constipation (STC) is recognized in children but the etiology is unknown. Abnormalities in substance P (SP), vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) and nitric oxide (NO) have been implicated. The density of nerve fibers in circular muscle containing these transmitters was examined in colon from children with STC and compared to other pediatric and adult samples.
Methods Fluorescence immunohistochemistry using antibodies to NO synthase (NOS), VIP and SP was performed on colonic biopsies (transverse and sigmoid colon) from 33 adults with colorectal cancer, 11 children with normal colonic transit and anorectal retention (NAR) and 51 with chronic constipation and slow motility in the proximal colon (STC). The percentage area of nerve fibers in circular muscle containing each transmitter was quantified in confocal images.
Key Results In colon circular muscle, the percentage area of nerve fibers containing NOS > VIP > SP (6 : 2 : 1). Pediatric groups had a higher density of nerve fibers than adults. In pediatric samples, there were no regional differences in NOS and VIP, while SP nerve fiber density was higher in sigmoid than proximal colon. STC children had lower SP and VIP nerve fiber density in the proximal colon than NAR children. Twenty-three percent of STC children had low SP nerve fiber density.
Conclusions & Inferences There are age-related reductions in nerve fiber density in human colon circular muscle. NOS and VIP do not show regional variations, while SP nerve fiber density is higher in distal colon. 1/3 of pediatric STC patients have low SP or VIP nerve fiber density in proximal colon.